Australian carrier Qantas announced that its freight division will increase its domestic fleet with six Airbus A321 aircraft to meet the growing demand for e-commerce.

The six A321 freighters, which will be sourced on the open market, are expected to arrive between early 2024 and mid-2026. They will replace the airline’s long-term fleet of five Boeing 737 freighters that Qantas said are approaching the end of their economic life. 

“Qantas Freight has been one of the standout performers for the Group during the pandemic as Australians rapidly shifted to online shopping. While some of that shift is temporary, demand remains well-above pre-pandemic levels even with the lifting of almost all COVID-related restrictions,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement dated August 15, 2022. 

Qantas said that subject to commercial negotiations, the A321 aircraft will be converted from carrying passengers to cargo. The conversion work will include removing seats and the installation of a cargo handling system.

The fleet of A321 will have a model designation of A321P2F, which stands for ‘Passenger to Freighter’. 

“This is one of the largest ever investments in our domestic freight fleet, that will enable Qantas Freight to capture more of that demand and will provide the opportunity to help Freight further grow revenue and earnings,” Joyce added.

In December 2021, Qantas converted two of its Airbus A330 passenger aircraft into widebody freighters to address the demand for e-commerce.  Singapore-based tech and engineering group ST Engineering completed the A321P2F conversion.

Qantas currently has three A321P2Fs. Each A321 freighter can carry 23 tonnes of cargo, nine tonnes more than the older 737s, and are around 30% more fuel efficient per tonne of freight carried.

Cargo operations have experienced a boom since the onset of the pandemic partly thanks to consumers doing more shopping online. The ACMI market has been busy expanding its cargo operations during the pandemic, while both Boeing and Airbus have launched new freighters. 

Other carriers like Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA), and aircraft manufacturer Embraer, have also launched  respective passenger to freighter programs in March 2022. 

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To meet growing e-commerce demand, Qantas will convert two Airbus A330 passenger aircraft into widebody freighters